Kansas Supreme Court rules against state again in Gannon school funding lawsuit

The Kansas Supreme Court on Monday ruled the new school funding law fails to provide enough money and fails to allocate funding equitably.
But the court gave legislators until June 30 to fix the system and allowed schools to remain in operation under the current law for the current academic year.
The court, however, indicated it was losing its patience in the long-running school finance lawsuit, which started in 2010 when the state cut school funding.
“Staying the issuance of our mandate until June 30 is consistent with our general practice. But we also `must heed our duty to ensure Kansas students receive the education system guaranteed them by the Constitution.’ Without counting today’s decision, the education financing system has been judicially declared to be inadequately funded for at least 12 of the last 15 years—through school year 2016-2017. So after June 30, 2018, the demands of the Constitution cannot be further postponed.”
Gov. Sam Brownback, who is expected to leave office soon for a federal appointment, called the court’s decision regrettable and said the court shouldn’t substitute its decision for that of the Legislature.
Senate Republican leaders issued a statement criticizing the court’s decision, adding they “remain committed to providing every Kansas student with an exceptional education, however, raising taxes to fund this unrealistic demand is not going to happen.”
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said in a tweet: “We’re ready to work on crafting constitutionally sound formula that ensures success for all Kansas school children, no matter their zip code.”
KASB Associate Executive Director for Advocacy Mark Tallman said the ruling wasn’t surprising because studies indicate much more funding is needed to help all students succeed.
Last session, the Legislature approved a new school finance formula to replace the block grants that had froze funding for two years and were declared unconstitutional by the court. The Legislature added $200 million in new K-12 funding this year and $100 million next year.
Schools for Fair Funding, which represents plaintiff districts, described the ruling as “a great decision” and said a request made by the State Board of Education for an $893 million increase “is still the best evidence as to what increase is needed.”
The group said the only downside to the decision “was the timing of the remedy. Should the next legislative attempt fail, count on a special session for sure next summer.”
In its decision, the court said adequacy is met when the finance system “through structure and implementation is reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the standards” that have been set by law.
In addition, the court said under a constitutional finance system, “school districts must have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort.”
The court also stated: “Suffice it to say that in our view the Kansas K-12 public education system has been inadequately funded for far too long.”
The court said the Legislature has a “myriad of choices available to perform this constitutional duty” of funding schools.